I hate it when my headphones get tangled. As a church planter that lives out of a backpack, it happens very often, unfortunately. The longer the headphones have been in my bag, the more difficult to unwind. The more urgent the situation, the harder it is to get them straightened out. It doesn’t matter how carefully I put them in my bag, they tend to come out tangled.
Having read what feels like an endless amount of articles and blogs on critical issues in our culture and churches, it seems to me that arguments and discussions tend to do the same things as my headphones. Arguments, like headphones, naturally get tangled and are difficult to untangle. The trickier the topic, the more difficult it is.
A recent blog exchange between two guys I know—Owen Strachan and Kyle Roberts—serves as a great illustration. I can’t settle their disagreement or ones like theirs, but perhaps a couple observations could move the conversation along in a way that will allow people to better hear the heart of their arguments.
“Epistemic Certainty” Characterizes Every Side of the Discussion, Even When It Isn’t Claimed
One of the criticisms that Kyle levies against Owen has to do with his “epistemic certainty.” Kyle does this more than once. This criticism, of course, is a tempting one. With it, you can both paint your opponent as a “quick to draw conclusions before you hear the whole story,” arrogant, and an epistemological bully, while coming off as a humble, listening, and careful person.
As effective as the criticism is, it’s not without its problems. In order to criticize someone for an unwarranted “epistemic certainty,” you need “epistemic certainty” that they are in error. In this blog, Kyle seemed quite certain that Owen’s “epistemic certainty” was unwarranted. For instance, Kyle criticizes Owen for having an “epistemic certainty” that allows him to say people are on a path to hell. While it seems that Owen is the lone bearer of this pejoratively used title, a closer look reveals he’s not. Is Kyle sure that Owen’s wrong here? It would seem so. That takes “epistemic certainty.” It seems Kyle is saying that these folks aren’t going to hell. Is he sure? Better have some “epistemic certainty” to make that assurance. When your position moves from “I don’t know” to “we can’t know,” you have moved from uncertainty to certainty.
Further, since we see “you’re on the path to hell” statements in Scripture, it seems reasonable for believers to provide similar warnings? Sure, let’s be careful throwing that indictment around. But let’s not act like it’s off limits and let’s not be silent, if indeed we believe people are heading down that path.
“Epistemic certainty” characterizes every side of the discussion. That doesn’t end the discussion, it advances it. Make your knowledge claims and let the debate be heard.
Everyone Characterizes The Motives Of Others, And Sometimes That’s Okay
Kyle doesn’t like the way Owen characterized the pastor’s motives. He focused particularly on Owen’s use of “self-congratulatory” in reference to the pastor’s actions and those like him. Should Owen have done that? Perhaps not. Regardless of the pastor’s motives, it is the action that he took that is central. His motives seem to be irrelevant to the heart of the argument. Plus, it is just flat out difficult to know a person’s motivations. The Scriptures say that our own motives can be hard to discover, much less the motives of someone else (Jer. 17:9). Kyle’s right that we should be careful when questioning motives.
But on the other hand, maybe Owen was right. As you read Scripture, it seems that, while it doesn’t happen often, characterizing another person’s motives is fair game. After all, the Apostle of Love, John, did such things. In 3 John 9, he tells us that Diotrephes “loves to have first place among them.” The Apostle Paul says Demas deserted him “because he loved this present world” (2 Tim 4:10). There seem to be basic indicators that allow for such motive indictments. Perhaps such was the case here.
Regardless of your thoughts on this particular case, it’s important to see that both parties characterize the motives of others. As is often the case, the person who criticizes the other for questioning motives, questions their motives in the process. In this case, Kyle uncharitably labels Owen and others like him “Self-Appointed Guardians of the Galaxy.” Using “Terror Management Theory” and an encounter with two college students, Kyle argues that “fundamentalists” like Owen are motivated by fear and anxiety. They aren’t just defending a view; they are “defensive.” All of this, of course, is simply the same kind of motive talk that Kyle criticized Owen for—perhaps even more blatant.
Kyle is painting a picture of the motivations that drive Owen and “those like him.” That’s a lot of motivational knowledge. Maybe Owen is driven by fear and anxiety? While doubtful, it is possible. More likely it is the case that he and others like him are doing their best to follow passages like Titus 1:9 where we’re told both “to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it.” Surely this can be obeyed without wanting to be a “Guardian of the Evangelical Galaxy?”
It isn’t likely that Kyle would appreciate being characterized as a “Guardian of the Progressive Christian Galaxy?” Did someone else officially appoint Kyle the guardian who needed to call out Owen or did he decide to write that blog himself? Would it advance the discussion in any meaningful way if Owen labeled Kyle the “Guardian of the Progressive Christianity Galaxy?” I don’t think so.
When you negatively characterize the motives of the one you are criticizing for doing the same thing, it makes it hard for people to hear the truth of the argument. Mixed motives are on all sides and are hard to understand. Discussions will advance if we can admit that we all characterize the motives of others, not just one side; and it is justified in some cases—although rarely.
Criticizing one another for actions and/ arguments that we subtly do in the act of those criticisms doesn’t help the discussion advance. Let’s focus on the heart of the argument, admitting that neither side will do that perfectly. While I don’t think this brief post will cause Owen—whose position on LGBTs issues I share—and Kyle to agree on the issues at hand, perhaps the facts on both sides will be heard more clearly.
It’s been brought to my attention that some people in our churches point to Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 7:6 to not “cast your pearls before swine” to justify withholding the gospel from some groups of people. Particularly in a climate with heightened concerns about terrorism, some it seems make the argument that Matthew 7:6 precludes sharing the gospel with Muslims.
That is not only a wrong interpretation of Matthew 7:6, it’s a wicked one. Let me give three reasons why.
We must interpret particular biblical passages in light of the whole Bible, and we should interpret difficult passages in light of passages that are easier to understand. Revelation 5:9 makes it clear that Jesus spilt His blood to redeem people from every people group on the planet, including groups that are majority Muslim, so Matthew 7:6 can’t mean that the gospel is not for Muslims.
Jesus says later in in this same gospel, “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14). So, Matthew 7:6 can’t mean that there are certain groups with whom we shouldn’t share the gospel because Jesus says it will be shared with all peoples.
Third, it seems to me that what Jesus says in Matthew 7:6 is akin to what he tells his disciples as he sends them out in Luke 9:5. He says “wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” Jesus is not saying that there are groups of people with whom you don’t share. He is saying that there may be individuals who doggedly oppose your witness that you move on from and with whom you don’t indefinitely continue sharing the gospel. But, don’t miss this, these are people with whom you have already lovingly shared the gospel and been opposed. These are not people with whom you have a preconceived idea about their willingness to accept and refuse to ever share.
Allow us to give a brief response to Jay Adkins’ post.
1. B21 champions the primacy of the local church.
We stand by our oft-repeated philosophy that the local church is primary and associations and conventions are secondary. Churches and pastors aren’t “servants” of NOBA, as Jay stated, or any association. Associations are supposed to serve the churches. Associations don’t do ministry. Local churches do.
Never once in the article did we degrade compassion ministries. We are for both planting and compassion. However, the local church is the institution ordained by King Jesus to uniquely carry out the Great Commission, evangelism and compassion ministries. Our desire is to see a local church movement in NOLA. We pray this discussion leads to that end.
2. B21’s purpose is to advance discussions that no one else is having.
Our purpose in this post – as with similar ones we’ve posted in the past on various other issues – is to advance discussion about how to best advance the Great Commission. Good brothers with good intentions can disagree on this issue and the best use of these properties without questioning one another’s integrity. We are happy to have the discussion and to disagree but want to do so in the right spirit. Dean never suggested that NOBA isn’t passionate about church planting. The question is one of strategy not value.
3. There actually seems to be agreement on the basic facts.
NOBA owns properties they plan to sell rather than use to house church plants, and some of the funds from those sells will be used for compassion ministries. Jay admits this in his post, and this was Dean’s contention.
While Jay admits that there’s a plan to sell at least three properties (Carver, Sims, and Hopeview Baptist), he’s quick to say that Carver and Sims are not church properties, though he admits a small congregation did use one of the facilities for a short time. We didn’t intend for our post to get into the nuances of ecclesiology. We don’t think the church is the building anyways, but rather the people. So, even though at least one of these compassion properties did house a church for a short time, we are happy to update our post for the sake of clarity by changing the phrase “church buildings” to “NOBA properties.” But again, the basic facts remain the same. NOBA owns properties it plans to sell rather than use to house church plants.
4. B21 did not act in a way that lacks integrity.
Jay claims that our post was not Christlike, that we are ignorant of what is actually happening in NOLA, and that we had no right to talk about what’s happening in NOLA.
That’s not the case. There was no violation of Matthew 18, which governs local church interaction in cases of discipline. That is not the situation here. There is no sin issue to address here; rather, we were simply trying to advance a discussion.
Also, to suggest that we never talked to anyone locally in NOLA is incorrect. We have. Many are frustrated on both sides of the issue.
Furthermore, Dean Inserra, who is part of B21, is a key partner in Send NOLA, thus he has a vested interest in advancing the discussion about the local strategy to reach NOLA.
5. A further clarification
In the original post it was stated that the church building on Magazine St. was abandoned. Jay stated that the facility does house “Valance Street Baptist Church.” We are happy to update our blog to reflect this; the problem is the current status of the property on Magazine St. is confusing at best.
Jay states that this church has “entered into a partnership with NOBA,” but that it’s not NOBA’s “prerogative to force a church to [do] anything, especially as it has to do with property.” Our question for the purposes of clarity would be, what exactly is meant by “entered into a partnership?” Is it something more formal than simply being part of the association? Does NOBA now own the property on Magazine St?
It is our understanding from a conversation with a local church planter that NOBA does own the property. This planter approached NOBA leadership about acquiring that building, and they were denied. So, while there is a church meeting on Magazine St. at present, the property belongs to NOBA and has at least been denied to 1 church planter.
This will be the last we address this issue. We will make the updates to the initial blog, and we stand by what we have written.
-The B21 Leadership Team
A Rebuttal to Dean Inserra’s “Send New Orleans: An Opportunity and a Challenge”
I have the great privilege to serve as the moderator of the New Orleans Baptist Association of Churches (NOBA) but what follows is just my personal reaction to yesterday’s blog post at B21 regarding the New Orleans Baptist Association. I’ve lived in the metro NOLA area for 13+ years and have been amazed at what a unique, diverse and challenging place this is to live and to serve. You learn things in NOLA that I’m convinced you can’t learn anywhere else. I often joke with our pastors that we are the “Island of Misfit Toys” of the Southern Baptist Convention. We are all so different. Our theologies are varied, our worship styles—assorted and our skin color—diverse yet we find great joy and community in our unity (tell me another association where the “big church” pastors are just as involved in associational life as are the “small church” pastors… including a former President of the SBC). Maybe it is because we know that those outside our Island don’t quite “get it” the way we do. Maybe it is simply the fact that spiritually-initiated wartime trench-oriented relationships are some of the strongest and most meaningful bonds forged. Whatever the reason, New Orleans is a different place and to that I say vive la difference. It is from that background that my desire to be transparent and truthful has been cultivated and it is from that perspective that I must respond to the recent B21 article from Dean Inserra titled, “Send New Orleans: An Opportunity and a Challenge.”
I was called today by a NOBA employee to let me know about this article. More concerning for me than even the content of the article is the fact that B21 didn’t contact our Executive Director, me who serves as moderator, nor any member of the Administrative Team to offer an opportunity to address what has been written about our local work. I believe the integrity of B21 is at stake here (a ministry that I both appreciate and am often encouraged by). When such an article is to be published, journalistic (not to mention spiritual) integrity requires that a full vetting take place and at least some sort of contact be made with the organization being addressed so that an appropriate rebuttal, or at least clarification, could be rendered.
I appreciate Dean Inserra’s leadership in guiding City Church of Tallahassee to adopt NOLA as a partner. We love our partners and we appreciate the thousands of short term missionaries and partner churches who have given their time, toil and treasure to help us engage our mission field, but one of the many things I have learned while pastoring a church that has housed thousands of volunteers is that a “trip down” and a “tour around” our area, albeit important to introduce our ministry to perspective partners, could not possibly provide the necessary backdrop to our unique work in what is considered by many to be one of the most complex and diverse Baptist associations in the SBC.
I am certain Dean offers these critiques from a place of true concern, nor do I expect him to understand the history and very involved background from which this dialogue springs however, the substance of the complaint in this blog post is so scant and misguided that it is difficult to know where to begin in response. Let me do this piece-by-piece, starting with the most direct statement made by Pastor Dean…
First, Dean posits,
That sounds great, doesn’t it? Church buildings used by church plants from our own denomination to battle lostness in a Send city is a slam-dunk, right? It should be, except for the challenge presented by the New Orleans Baptist Association (NOBA). As proof of God’s continued work in this city, NOBA now owns several of these vacant buildings. Tragically, it seems the Association is not interested in using these properties as facilities for church planting, the reason given that they would rather sell the buildings in order to fund local social justice ministries. (emphasis his)
Nothing could be further from the truth. NOBA has not sold a single church building. Further, to my knowledge, the association hasn’t sold a church building in the 13 years I’ve pastored in the area.
NOBA owns exactly 6 “church” buildings. All but 2 of them (4) are currently used by an established congregation, mission or church plant. Furthermore our ample association office complex has been the home of a number of other church plants throughout the years an is always available for planting. It is my hope that the 2 church buildings that currently do not house any congregations (Hopeview – which has been used as a roughed out volunteer center post-Katrina and Lake Forest – used as a warehouse for NOBA’s rebuild material) will one day either return to use as local church facilities (Lake Forest) or be sold and the proceeds used for church planting (Hopeview). In fact, NOBA has already invited the submission of a proposal for a future plant in the Lake Forest facility but nothing has been received. As for the Hopeview site, after consultation with church planting and church health strategist as well as local pastors, NOBA concluded that it was not feasible to return Hopeview to service as a church for a plethora of reasons; deemed it surplus property; and has listed it for sale. NOBA has received no proposals for the expected proceeds from the sale of Hopeview, nor has NOBA taken action regarding the disposition of said proceeds, which I hope to see used for planting purposes. (By the way, in an earlier tweet I made the mistake of saying “no church building we have is being sold” I should have said, “has not sold a single church building” I want to be very careful with my words and point out my mistake here). Dean made reference to one particular building on Magazine. That building, which he seems to think is empty, houses Valance Street Baptist Church and is the oldest SBC church building in NOBA. They have had a pastor for longer than I’ve lived here and have only recently entered into a partnership with NOBA to help it become a stronger work by…. wait for it… submitting to become a NOBA church plant/replant. It is not the association’s prerogative to force a church to anything, especially as it has do with property.
Now, if Dean is referring to the sale of two former compassion ministry sights (Carver and Rachel Sims) then that is another story. First of all, these buildings are not and never have been “church properties” (although a small mission church did for a short time utilize one of the large cavernous facilities) Second, these buildings were given to NOBA during the time NAMB was ridding itself of compassion ministry sites. When representatives from NOBA went to visit NAMB’s leadership to share our newly minted and ratified areas of focus—church health, church planting and compassion ministries—we identified our desire to reach into underserved communities with the gospel witness through compassion ministries including the possible introduction of a health clinic. NAMB loved the idea. Thus, for a number of years we have planned on selling these two properties to help further our compassion ministry efforts in the Lower Ninth Ward – where today we have the first of what I hope to be a number of gospel centered medical ministries in which our doctors tend to physical needs while also praying for and encouraging its patients. Tell me of another Baptist association that has a medical clinic.
Dean also argues, “the money invested in these ministries will be spent and gone for good.” Again, he is mistaken. Our hope is that this is an investment which will have a financial return to our association to further our vision. To suggest that we are impeding church planting by investing funds into compassion ministries is tantamount to suggesting that a church is not about global missions if it also is involved with funding local ministry. Dean also suggests, “One would think that starting and maintaining healthy churches would be the priority for a local association, rather than social programs.” Wow, I’m not sure how to respond here. Dean is simply presenting the fallacy of a false dilemma. Why can’t we do both? Further, we are not just talking about “social programs.” We are talking about meeting the physical needs of a neglected and underserved community (something that Jesus himself did). The fact is, not every penny spent by NOBA will go to church planting. NOBA has a gospel-centered strategy to expand the kingdom of Christ across the greater New Orleans region that involves three prongs: Church planting, Church health and Compassion Ministries; or as some have described it—Sharing Jesus, Starting Churches and Shaping Culture.
Pair that with the fact that, if you will allow this analogy, the “church-planting” faucet (so to speak) is wide open. A significant amount of funds are available from the SBC, the LBC and church partners from all around the country for church planting. There are however, NO funds for compassion ministries through CP efforts (however, since my original post one brother has let me know that there are some funds for local churches to engage in compassion type ministries). That we need to defend why we want to use this one-time asset (which was dedicated to compassion ministries) for the furtherance of our compassion ministry is very frustrating to me, especially when it comes from someone in another state who clearly has some but not all the information. I’ve already had friends from around the country contact me about this. That this post might jeopardize our current and the possibility of future partnerships is upsetting and such irresponsible misinformation is disappointing to say the least.
To suggest that NOBA is not passionate about church planting is absurd. NOBA and its churches have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to church planting and church planters in an effort to see this city inundated with the Gospel. We have used both NOBA owned and our locally owned buildings to house plants. My small church has relationships with two plants outside of our state (Utah and Vermont) and one in the next community over from ours. No one, and I mean NO ONE has any more heart for this city than those of us who daily work and labor here. To suggest otherwise is, and I’ll say it as nicely as I can, without understanding. The men and women, pastors and servants of NOBA work together in a way I have seen no other association do in order to fulfill our cooperative call to exalt Christ. We do so with joy in our diversity and singleness of heart in our effort.
You want to know about church planting / church life in southeast Louisiana? Come for a visit and talk to those of us who have walked it. I’d encourage you to get to know the pastors who have grown up here, those of us who were here through Katrina, and those who have come here to plant and pastor since that deluge. We will continue to prayerfully seek God’s direction for our association to impact our neighbors around our home. At least, if you’re going to publish something about our work, talk to one of us first… please.
Editorial Note and UPDATE: I have come to understand where the author of the original blog received his limited information. Although I am very disappointed with the circumstances surrounding this stir and I remain indignant that this piece was written, much less published without an attempt at engaging the Executive Director or the Administrative Team of NOBA. That was simply not the way Christ tells us to deal with others… at all. In fact, it is contrary to Scripture. I do however, now know that there was no intention on the part of the author or publisher to present false information. He seems to have been speaking from what what he was told. What is clear to me is that he only had bits and pieces of information. What remains disappointing is that such an article was written in the first place considering our work is a local Baptist work and historically, entities and individuals outside of an association do not have a place to nor should they be lodging complaints or directives toward an association that is not their own… especially about properties owned by the association. Because of that I want to make a couple of adjustments to my post. Anywhere I suggested or insinuated that someone was deliberately presenting false information I am retracting. Understand that I am NOT retracting the facts I have carefully presented nor am I discounting my disappointment with the article and its deployment but knowing that there was no deliberate attempt to deceive is enough for me to soften my language in some areas.
I believe in the vision of Dr. Kevin Ezell and the call to participate in Send North America under his leadership at the North American Mission Board. For the church I pastor in Tallahassee, FL, part of helping to carry out that vision has been for us to become a lead church-planting partner by adopting the city of New Orleans, one of the strategic cities in the Send North America initiative. After visiting the city with some of our staff from City Church, we fell in love with the city, and saw the great need to help lead a church planting movement in the Big Easy, a place with little evangelical presence.
Send New Orleans: The Opportunity
The harvest is plenty as twenty-five percent of Louisiana residents live in the New Orleans region. Reaching New Orleans with the gospel would impact the entire state. This great American city has endured a tremendous amount of pain following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, yet it continues to boast a proud local culture that celebrates its uniqueness through food, sports teams, music, and regular festivals.
Though it is located deep in the South, New Orleans more closely resembles a European city than it does one in the Bible belt. There is a great Catholic influence, which often creates confusion between understanding religion and actually believing the gospel of Jesus Christ. As of 2012, over 900,000 people live New Orleans, yet we have only one SBC Church for every 8,011 residents. During our visit, our staff took an uncomfortable walk down Bourbon Street and felt like we were walking through Sodom or Nineveh. We prayed we would see the city the way Jesus would, and have great compassion.
In the face of a culture of lostness, the good news is that Southern Baptists are currently perceived mostly positively in this ethnically and religiously diverse city. This is largely due to the election of locally revered Pastor Fred Luter as the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as the outstanding response by the SBC to the disaster following Katrina. With such an opportunity to truly reach a city in desperate need of Christ, the time to act is now.
I am confident that NAMB has the right plan in place to push back the lostness currently stretching across this unique city. With more than seventy distinct neighborhoods for residents to claim as home, a parish-type model of planting a minimum of one church per neighborhood is what it is going to take to reach this city. One neighborhood at a time, we will push back lostness through healthy church planting and disciple making.
Land and buildings required to plant are rare finds in this dense and crowded city, and that is going to be a great barrier to this mission, especially in the necessary model of reaching over seventy neighborhoods. Abandoned church buildings and other properties have great potential to serve as local catalysts to new works.
Sadly, it seems that many of these resources (NOBA properties) currently remain untapped. On our recent tour, several of these NOBA properties were pointed out to us.
I believe that if these historic buildings were utilized to build healthy churches once again, the investments made by generations of believers would not be in vain, and the city could see its greatest days ahead.
Send New Orleans: The Challenge
That sounds great, doesn’t it? Baptist properties used by church plants from our own denomination to battle lostness in a Send city is a slam-dunk, right? It should be, except for the challenge presented by the New Orleans Baptist Association (NOBA).
As proof of God’s continued work in this city, NOBA now owns several vacant properties. Tragically, it seems the Association is not interested in using these properties as facilities for church planting, the reason given that they would rather sell the buildings in order to fund local social justice ministries.
While we should celebrate compassion ministries that show love to the city, the money invested in these ministries will be spent and gone for good. Allowing a church or NAMB to have the buildings will support an initiative whose legacy will last for generations. One would think that starting and maintaining healthy churches would be the priority for a local association, rather than social programs. In fact, new plants could oversee social justice efforts that operate as ministries of their own, allowing local churches to bless the neighborhoods where they are planted. This also would give them another avenue for effective evangelism.
Send New Orleans: Time to Act
Available space is obviously a massive issue for planting churches in New Orleans, and as a result, becomes a barrier to the forward movement of the gospel in the city. In several of the neighborhoods currently being targeted by Send New Orleans, baptist properties exist, buildings that are owned by the New Orleans Baptist Association. Are you scratching your head like I am? I know the people of the Association are good folks doing good gospel work, but this is unacceptable. Far too often, bureaucracy causes us to be timid in calling something as it is. Whether this is an issue of turf protection or something else, it must change as soon as possible. Let us pray together, and even demand for this to happen. I am calling on the New Orleans Baptist Association to donate those properties to NAMB. Let the process of reaching that great city with the gospel of Jesus Christ begin through healthy church planting. The plan is in place, it is time to act.
-Dean Inserra, Lead Pastor of City Church, Tallahassee
Update: We have updated for clarity
Update: Jay Adkins is the moderator for NOBA. He has responded to this blog and we have posted it here on B21.